From the Rabin Killing to the Gaza War: A Generation Comes of Age

This is the year when the children born in 1995, whose early life took place in the shadow of Rabin's assassination, donned Israeli army uniforms and took up arms.

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'Candle children' at a memorial for the assassinated prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.
'Candle children' at a memorial for the assassinated prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.Credit: Dan Keinan

It’s been 19 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Nineteen is one of those anniversaries that people aren’t quite sure what to do with. Twenty, 25 – those are obviously a big deal. On those years, we know to expect a big event marking the milestone with the accompanying media hoopla.

But what is significant about the number 19?

For Israelis of a certain age, the late 40- and 50-somethings – those who in America would be the tail end of the baby boom generation – it’s an important number.

For us, the early 1990s were the time of our young adulthood, years of hope and striving and planning and building. We were launching our careers, getting married, investing in living room furniture and sets of silverware, and taking on steep mortgages; as we signed the documents for the 15-year or 20-year commitment, 2014 felt very far away.

It was an invigorating time to be in this stage of life in Israel. Yes, there was uncertainty and nervousness about the future – that’s an inescapable part of the Middle East landscape. There was no blind euphoria. But for the first time in a long time, change and hope and optimism was in the air. It had been building since the Madrid peace conference in 1991, to the White House ceremony in 1993, and the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994.

With that backdrop, 1995 was a year when many of us decided to start families, or add a second or third child to our household. Those babies are the kids who turned 19 this year, the children of 1995. Those babies represented new life conceived at a time when it seemed there was a real possibility that a peaceful future might be attainable. And so several of my friends were pregnant or caring for newborn babies as they stared in disbelieving horror at the television screen and learned the details of the assassination that shattered hope on the evening of November 4.

Memories of Rabin’s assassination and the weeks of mourning afterward are hopelessly intertwined with the experiences of new parenthood for many of them. One friend was in the hospital after having given birth that day, and remembers sobbing in hormone-charged devastation.

Another recalls being six-months pregnant and exhausted, yet standing in line all night at the Knesset waiting to view Rabin’s body as it lay in state.

And so, marking 19 years since the assassination is, in fact, very significant. This is the year when the children born in 1995, whose early life took place in the shadow of the assassination, performed the ritual of heading to the Israel Defense Forces recruitment center, donned army uniforms and took up arms.

And their parents sent them off and watched and worried, some as their children of 1995 sat in tanks and tunnels in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

This generation of Israeli parents has been no stranger to messy and controversial conflicts: they were the young soldiers sent to Lebanon in the 1980s and bear the scars.

Few were naive enough when their children were born – whether before or after November 4 – to believe in the well-worn Israeli cliché that their newborn babies wouldn’t have to serve in the military.

But neither did they anticipate the seemingly endless parade of operations in Lebanon and Gaza that have characterized the new millennium.

“I don’t think any of us expected that all of the wars would be over when they grew up,” one friend told me. “But on the other hand, neither did we expect our kids would face wars every other year.”

And the conflicts have their inevitable tragic consequences for all involved – Israeli and Palestinian civilians and combatants. The majority of the 64 soldiers who fell in Operation Protective Edge were older and more experienced troops. But counted among them was a group of 18- and 19-year-olds – conceived and born when Yigal Amir took aim at the hope and optimism of their parents' generation in 1995.

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